29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The first reading for this weekend is from the Book of Isaiah, precisely from its third and last part.
Isaiah on several occasions describes, or refers to, a loyal and devoted servant of God who endures outrageous insults and severe misfortunes. Yet this servant never despairs, nor does he ever rebel against these unhappy events as they come to him.
Furthermore, through, and from, these sufferings, good prevails. It prevails in his own faithfulness. And, the glory of God shines through all that happens.
While these verses were written many years before Christ, pious Christians always have seen in them a prefigurement of their gentle Savior, the innocent lamb of God, sinless and merciful, good and perfect, but the victim of viciousness and of the indifference of so many.
As its second reading for this weekend, the church presents a selection from the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Typically throughout Hebrews, the reading is strong in its Old Testament imagery, especially in the symbolism of the ancient rituals of the Jewish temple.
In A.D. 70, the Romans destroyed the temple, as a reprisal after the Jews unsuccessfully attempted to revolt against Rome. The priests were killed or scattered. The old rituals came to an end. They have not yet been restored.
However, for the first two-thirds of the first century A.D., these ceremonies, in which priests, a high priest, sacrifices, and victims of sacrifices, figured, the rites of the temple were familiar to young and old, great and small, among the Jews.
Hebrews is more than a chronicle of Jewish custom and history. It sees Jesus as the great high priest. The sacrifice is the Lord’s sacrifice on Calvary. He is the victim. His sacrifice affects true reconciliation with God.
The reading also reminds us that Jesus, the son of God, also was human as are we. He never sinned. He was tempted, however. He loves us. He understands us.
St. Mark’s Gospel supplies the last reading.
In this reading, two apostles approached Jesus. They are James and John, the sons of Zebedee. The forecasts by Jesus of the coming of a new kingdom to the world, namely the kingdom of God, have intrigued them. Yet they misunderstand the true meaning of the kingdom of God.
Presuming it has earthly properties, they want to have privileged places in this coming, glorious kingdom. They ask the Lord to give them these high places.
Jesus replies, reminding them that the path to the new kingdom will be neither swift nor smooth. To progress along this path, any disciple must identify with Christ in the fullness, abandoning self, self-interests and comfort to be like Jesus was, to sacrifice self, and indeed to give all of self in the sacrifice.
The Lord came into the world as the Redeemer. His mission was to redeem, or rescue, humanity from its own plight, a plight created by willful sin and voluntary rejection of God.
Sin had disordered and weakened human nature. In many cases, sin reigned supreme in the world.
To follow Christ with sincerity means the determination to be true to God despite human weaknesses pointing the other way, and it means resisting sin and its effects throughout earthly life.
These readings call us to face all these realities. We live in a material world. As disciples, we look to the spirit. We live in a world in which sin is strong, and sinners are many. It is a world with little love, and with little justice.
So, we must swim upstream. It will be difficult, accomplished only with God’s help. But, if we ask for it, God’s help will come. We can, and will, succeed in our purpose to be with God in the great new kingdom of peace and life.
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